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black Angus grazing in dry grass Jacqueline Nix/iStock/Thinkstock
DRY TIMES: Cows search for green grass in a dry pasture.

3 essential drought management tools

South Dakota State University Extension Service offers information, advice, online spreadsheets and a list of testing labs to help manage a ranch through drought.

By Adele Harty

As drought conditions continue to expand and worsen through the Northern Plains, ranchers are faced with the stress and challenges of making the best decisions for their operations.

There are multiple factors that play into the decision-making process, with some being more challenging than others.

One of the factors that makes this process more difficult at times is being able to separate the emotion from the business.

Often producers see the ranch as more than a business, but focusing on the basics of making decisions on what is best for the business will help you persevere through tough times.

Tools and resources
To make the best management decisions, it is important to utilize your resources and contacts to gather information. There are multiple people who can help provide information, including fellow ranchers, ag lenders, veterinarians and Extension professionals, to name and few.

SDSU Extension offers multiple tools and resources to provide information, including Drought Management Tips for Beef Cattle Producers — a publication that compiles multiple resources on management decisions focusing on supply management, including: feed resources, rotational grazing, water quantity and quality. This publication also addresses demand management and decisions that can affect or decrease the demand for feed resources, such as early weaning, shortening the breeding season to only keep the most fertile females and culling practices. Be willing to think outside the box to determine what will work best for your ranch and have a plan in place before drought happens again, so that you are ready and prepared to make those hard decisions. 

On the SDSU Economics Department website, there are multiple spreadsheets available for download that can assist in decision-making.

The Haul the Cattle worksheet allows livestock producers to compare hauling the cattle to feed versus hauling the feed to the cattle.

The Feed Nutrient Comparison Calculator allows users to enter the price, distance for trucking and feed analysis information for various feeds and determine which is the cheapest option while meeting nutrient needs.

Several livestock budget templates are available help you determine what you can afford to pay for feed and other inputs.

Feed testing laboratories
During drought years, it is vitally important to send forage and water samples to a lab for analysis. You can find a list of labs in the iGrow publication, Feed and Water Testing Laboratories.

SDSU Extension experts
As you are working through these decisions, don't hesitate to contact one of the SDSU Extension cow/calf field specialists, state beef specialists, livestock business management field specialists or beef feedlot management associate. See the SDSU Extension Field Staff Directory for contact information.

Harty is an SDSU Extension cow/calf field specialist.

TAGS: Livestock
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